Dennis Jennings: Thank you. Good evening. I’m delight­ed and real­ly hon­ored to be here. But before I tell you a bit about the past, let me tell you a bit about today. It’s some very inter­est­ing and excit­ing new news.

Last week the European Parliament passed an act enforc­ing net neu­tral­i­ty. And that’s a major step. It’s now up to the gov­ern­ments so we need to lob­by the gov­ern­ments to make sure that they’re not lob­bied by the tele­coms indus­try to under­mine this step. And this morn­ing, the European Court of Justice over­turned the Data Retention Directive in Europe— [light applause] Yes. Citing that the secu­ri­ty does not trump per­son­al pri­va­cy. And this whole direc­tive has to be rewrit­ten. At ISOC, we have a job to do to make sure that that’s rewrit­ten prop­er­ly. Now. Let me tell you a lit­tle— [applause] Yeah. I think this is impor­tant.

But any­way, back to the past. Twenty-nine years ago— I was involved in net­work­ing in the decade of the 80s. I was invit­ed to join the National Science Foundation as the first pro­gram direc­tor for net­work­ing. I start­ed on the first of January 1985, and I was on fif­teen months leave of absence from University College Dublin. So I had this win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty to do some­thing.

Now, I was hired to build a super­com­put­er access net­work. or a set of net­works for super­com­put­er access. The rea­son I took the job was that I saw an oppor­tu­ni­ty to do some­thing much big­ger in that.

So, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, I’ll now express what I did in sort of the terms I would use nowa­days. I’m no longer involved; I’m a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist, an angel investor, that sort of stuff.

So what I think I did was I took a long-term strate­gic approach to build­ing the net­work, rather than a short-term tac­ti­cal view. And that meant sup­port­ing the longer-term needs of all researchers in the United States, at their desk­tops, rather than only the super­com­put­er users at their super­com­put­ers. That meant build­ing a scal­able net­work of networks—an internet—based on cam­pus, region­al, com­mu­ni­ty, back­bone net­works; rather than a set of ded­i­cat­ed super­com­put­er access net­works. And two of those had already been fund­ed by the time I joined.

This meant chang­ing the way the NSF itself approached the work I was try­ing to do. Normally, the NSF pro­gram direc­tors sit and wait for inter­est­ing pro­pos­als. The approach I took was to define the mis­sion, indeed to define the technology—it had to be an inter­net, it had to be TCP/IP, to man­date that TCP/IP would be used, (in some cas­es in due course), and invit­ing pro­pos­als to fill up those com­po­nents of the net­work of net­works.

This meant lever­ag­ing NSF funds by involv­ing the research com­mu­ni­ty and pro­vid­ing seed fund­ing to enable those com­mu­ni­ties to build their own net­works, and spend their own mon­ey doing so, rather than seek­ing a sin­gle con­trac­tor to build a net­work. Although, lat­er on for the high-speed back­bone that proved to be the best way of doing it.

And that meant my role was to pro­vide lead­er­ship. To go out—and I spent the fif­teen months going around the United States talk­ing to people—and try­ing to excite peo­ple about the research net­work and about par­tic­i­pat­ing and con­tribut­ing to this effort. And to find a way to accom­mo­date the short-term bat­tles (and they were intense) between the strate­gic view and the tac­ti­cal view. And I had many pub­lic bat­tles. When peo­ple point­ed out that I was under­min­ing the health of US research by going for a long-term strate­gic view for a tech­nol­o­gy that did­n’t work very well (TCP/IP inter­net tech­nol­o­gy) rather than the short-term tac­ti­cal MFENET or DECnet, which worked very well indeed.

And that’s why I think the NSFNET pro­gram was suc­cess­ful. My work was based on the vision and enthu­si­asm of many peo­ple who went before me. And indeed by the peo­ple who fol­lowed. In par­tic­u­lar I want— The only per­son I’m going to men­tion my name is Steve Wolff, who took up the work and turned it into the NSFNET and the Internet we have today.

But, most impor­tant­ly, my work was sup­port­ed by the dozens, per­haps even hun­dreds of peo­ple, some of whom you’ve already rec­og­nized in the Internet Hall of Fame, some of whom are rec­og­nized today, who took up the chal­lenge. These were research lead­ers, researchers, net­work­ers. They took up the chal­lenge. They put their own time and effort in. And they made the NSFNET pro­gram work. So, it’s on their behalf, all those peo­ple who actu­al­ly did the hard work, that I’m very hon­ored to be here to accept this award, and I thank you.


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